Bombay HC allows restauranteur to serve of tobacco-free ‘herbal’ hookah

Bombay HC allows restauranteur to serve of tobacco-free 'herbal' hookah 1
Ali Reza, who owns the Sheesha Sky Lounge chain, had argued that the provisions of COTPA, 2003 under which hookah was banned did not apply to the tobacco-free alternative (Representational Image)

The Bombay High Court on Monday allowed the owner of Sheesha Sky Lounge to serve tobacco-free ‘herbal’ hookah at his rooftop restaurant, months after the state imposed a complete ban on serving hookah.

Restaurateur Ali Reza Abdi had sought relief from the court on the grounds that the provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003, under which the hookah was banned, were not applicable to tobacco-free hookah.

Abdi, in his petition, said authorities cannot take coercive action against him if he starts serving the herbal hookah – which is nicotine-free and contains harmless elements like glycerin & sugar – at his roof-top restaurant.

A division bench of justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre allowed the petition and during the hearing on Monday, permitted Abdi to serve herbal hookah.

“The high court is permitting the petitioner to serve the herbal hookah. If in future the petitioner is found to be serving any tobacco product then the authorities are free to take action as per law,” the bench said.

The petitioner stated that he operated three outlets in Mumbai under the brand name ‘Sheesha Sky Lounge’ and employed more than 400 people.

However, all outlets were shut since over a year after a massive blaze engulfed two roof-top restaurants inside Kamla Mills compound in December 2017, resulting in the death of 14 lives.

In the aftermath of the incident, the state government had amended COTPA and imposed a blanket ban on running hookah bars in any place.

The amended law also laid down a punishment of imprisonment up to three years, making the serving of hookah a cognisable offence.

Earlier today, Abdi’s advocate Sujoy Kantawalla said that his client had submitted a number of representations to various authorities, contending that tobacco-free herbal hookah was not covered under provisions of the recent amendment and no coercive action can be taken if nicotine-free herbal hookah is served at his chain.

“We submitted forensic science lab reports to show that herbal hookah has no tobacco in it. We even asked the Mumbai civic body and the state government to conduct their own tests on the product,” Kantawalla said.

The petitioner had complained that cigarettes were allowed to be sold although it has been scientifically proven that smoking causes cancer, but he was being prevented from serving tobacco-free hookah at his food joints, he said.

Abdi told the high court that he was put to financial hardship and was deprived of his fundamental constitutional right to do a business of his choice.

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